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Bracketology: All Hail the Wolverines

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With Duke’s home loss to Syracuse, and with the status of Blue Devils’ point guard Tre Jones uncertain following a shoulder injury, Michigan climbs the final rung on the latest Seed List ladder.

The Wolverines hold the No. 1 overall position in today’s bracket, followed closely by Virginia and Tennessee.

The real debate involved the fourth No. 1 seed position.

One could make a compelling case for Duke, Kansas, or Michigan State.

The Blue Devils were without two of their primary players for much of the loss to Syracuse.

In the end, however, the Jayhawks’ eight Group 1 wins, plus victories over both Tennessee and Michigan State, proved to be the difference.

UPDATED: January 17, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION VCU vs. Pittsburgh
WEST REGION Texas vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Norfolk State vs. Prairie View
EAST REGION Sam Houston vs. UMKC

SOUTH Louisville   EAST – Washington, DC          
Columbus Columbia
1) MICHIGAN 1) VIRGINIA
16) PR VIEW / NORFOLK ST  16) SAM HOUSTON / UMKC
8) NC State 8) Kansas State
9) Mississippi State 9) Minnesota
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Florida State 5) VILLANOVA
12) LIPSCOMB 12) VCU / Pittsburgh
4) Marquette 4) Maryland
13) GEORGIA STATE 13) YALE
Des Moines Jacksonville
6) Nebraska 6) Indiana
11) SAINT LOUIS 11) Arizona
3) HOUSTON 3) Kentucky
14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 14) VERMONT
Jacksonville Tulsa
7) LSU 7) Auburn
10) TCU 10) Syracuse
2) Duke 2) Texas Tech
15) RIDER 15) UTSA
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Tulsa Columbia
1) KANSAS 1) TENNESSEE
16) WEBER STATE 16) WAGNER
8) Purdue 8) Ohio State
9) St. John’s 9) Seton Hall
Hartford San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Louisville
12) Texas / Arizona State 12) MURRAY STATE
4) North Carolina 4) Oklahoma
13) HOFSTRA 13) UC-IRVINE
San Jose Hartford
6) Iowa State 6) BUFFALO
11) WOFFORD 11) Temple
3) NEVADA 3) Virginia Tech
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Salt Lake City Columbus
7) Wisconsin 7) Ole Miss
10) Cincinnati 10) WASHINGTON
2) GONZAGA 2) Michigan State
15) RIDER 15) LEHIGH

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
TCU Texas Butler Clemson
Cincinnati Arizona State UCF San Francisco
Temple VCU Florida Fresno State
Arizona Pittsburgh Alabama Dayton

TOP SEED LINE: Michigan is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia, Tennessee, and Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (10): MICHIGAN, Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh

SEC (6): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s

American (3): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, Temple

Pac 12 (3): WASHINGTON, Arizona, Arizona State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

Atlantic 10 (2): SAINT LOUIS, VCU

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), UTSA (C-USA), Georgia State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Weber State (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), Wofford (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), UMKC (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

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Bracketology: Virginia climbs to top line

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Yes, Virginia, another No. 1 seed is yours for the taking.  Thanks to the unbeaten Cavaliers’ dominant win over Florida State and Kansas’ loss at Iowa State, UVA climbs to the top line in this week’s bracket update.  With its No. 1 NET rating (as of early this morning), Virginia also edges out Tennessee for No. 3 on the seed list, effectively bumping the Volunteers to the West Region.

A quick housekeeping note … now that conference play is underway, current league leaders receive the automatic bid for the bracket.  Tie breakers in the loss column are settled by NET rating at the time of publication.  As an example, Fresno State receives the Mountain West’s auto bid today after Nevada’s loss at New Mexico.

We still have a variety of hit-or-miss resumes on the board.  Conference play will help separate teams over the next month.  Enjoy your college hoops!

BRACKET UPDATE: January 10, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Arizona vs. Temple
MIDWEST REGION Purdue vs. Alabama
EAST REGION NC A&T vs. Sacred Heart
SOUTH REGION Purdue-FW vs. Sam Houston

EAST Washington, DC                 SOUTH – Louisville
Columbia, SC Columbus
1) DUKE 1) MICHIGAN
16) NC A&T / SACRED HEART  16) P-FT. WAYNE / SAM HOUSTON
8) Mississippi State 8) LSU
9) TCU 9) Arizona State
Hartford San Jose
5) BUFFALO 5) VILLANOVA
12) WOFFORD 12) MURRAY STATE
4) Indiana 4) Kentucky
13) YALE 13) GEORGIA STATE
San Jose Jacksonville
6) Maryland 6) Ohio State
11) Arizona / Temple 11) VCU
3) Nevada 3) North Carolina
14) UC-IRVINE 14) RADFORD
Tulsa Salt Lake City
7) Seton Hall 7) Iowa State
10) Syracuse 10) Ole Miss
2) TEXAS TECH 2) GONZAGA
15) LEHIGH 15) GREEN BAY
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Jacksonville Columbia, SC
1) TENNESSEE 1) Virginia
16) NORTHERN COLORADO 16) RIDER
8) Minnesota 8) Nebraska
9) Louisville 9) Cincinnati
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Wisconsin 5) Marquette
12) FRESNO STATE 12) LIPSCOMB
4) Florida State 4) Houston
13) HOFSTRA 13) NORTH TEXAS
Hartford Des Moines
6) Iowa 6) NC State
11) Texas 11) Purdue / Alabama
3) Virginia Tech 3) Oklahoma
14) VERMONT 14) GRAND CANYON
Tulsa Columbus
7) St. John’s 7) Auburn
10) WASHINGTON 10) UCF
2) Kansas 2) Michigan State
15) TEXAS SOUTHERN 15) VALPARAISO

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Cincinnati Purdue Kansas State Florida
Ole Miss Temple Butler Clemson
Syracuse Arizona Creighton San Francisco
Texas Alabama Saint Louis Missouri

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Michigan, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (10): MICHIGAN, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue

ACC (8): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, NC State, Louisville, Syracuse

SEC (7): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, Auburn, Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss

BIG 12 (6): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s

American (4): UCF, Houston, Cincinnati, Temple

Pac 12 (3): WASHINGTON, Arizona State, Arizona

Mountain West (2): FRESNO STATE, Nevada

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Valparaiso (MVC), Rider (MAAC), North Texas (C-USA), Georgia State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Northern Colorado (BSKY), Green Bay (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), WOFFORD (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), NC A&T (MEAC), Purdue-Fort Wayne (SUM), Grand Canyon (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), Sacred Heart (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga

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Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?

When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.

And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Or something like that.

The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.

The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.

And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.

I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.

Here is the full top 25:

1. Duke (9-1, Last week: 2)
2. Michigan (10-0, 3)
3. Tennessee (7-1, 6)
4. Gonzaga (9-1, 1)
5. Virginia (9-0, 4)
6. Kansas (8-0, 5)
7. Nevada (10-0, 7)
8. Auburn (8-1, 8)
9. North Carolina (7-2, 9)
10. Florida State (8-1, 10)
11. Texas Tech (8-0, 11)
12. Michigan State (8-2, 13)
13. Virginia Tech (8-1, 14)
14. Wisconsin (8-2, 15)
15. N.C. State (8-1, 17)
16. Ohio State (8-1, 19)
17. Arizona State (7-1, 20)
18. Purdue (6-4, 18)
19. Villanova (8-2, UR)
20. Syracuse (7-2, UR)
21. Marquette (8-2, UR)
22. Buffalo (9-0, UR)
23. Mississippi State (8-1, 25)
24. Iowa (7-2, 23)
25. Nebraska (8-2, 24)

New Additions: 19. Villanova, 20 Syracuse, 21. Marquette
Dropped Out: 12. Kentucky, 16. Kansas State, 21. Creighton

Harvard’s Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken remain out indefinitely

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Ivy League favorite Harvard will be without two of its key players for the start of the season.

Head coach Tommy Amaker spoke to reporters on Friday and indicated that reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns and starting point guard Bryce Aiken will both remain out indefinitely with knee injuries. While Aiken has been battling knee injuries since being limited to only 14 games last season, the injury to Towns remains a bit more of a mystery.

In the Ivy League Conference Tournament title game last season, Towns sustained a knee injury with 8:20 left in the second half as Penn went on to ultimately win the game and claim the league’s NCAA tournament autobid. Towns also missed Harvard’s next contest when they lost in the opening round of the NIT to Marquette.

A September report from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports indicated that Aiken and Towns were expected to be fully cleared for basketball activities once practice officially started. But on Oct. 20, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported that neither Aiken nor Towns played in Harvard’s closed preseason scrimmage against Boston College.

Now that Amaker has indicated that Aiken and Towns will remain out, it’s going to be one of the key subplots to watch in this early college basketball season. The duo combined to average slightly over 30 points per game last season as the Crimson have huge expectations heading into this season.

Harvard is already used to playing (and playing well) without Aiken. But the loss of Towns could be huge — especially since we don’t know the severity of his injury. With the Crimson returning nearly its entire core from a team that just missed making the NCAA tournament, Harvard needs both of those guys back and healthy if they want to meet the high preseason expectations.

(h/t: David Tannenwald)

Nine mid-majors that can be the next Loyola-Chicago

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In each of the last five NCAA tournaments, there’s been at least one double-digit seeded mid-major that’s managed to advance.

The 2013 NCAA tournament boasted two such teams, 14-seed Harvard and a 15-seed in FGCU, that became national darlings over the course of the opening weekend.

Since then there have been repeat winners (Harvard won as a 12-seed in 2015, and Middle Tennessee advanced in both 2016 and 2017), and Loyola-Chicago reached the 2018 Final Four as an 11-seed.

What traits do these teams tend to have in common?

In many cases experience is key, be it from winning an NCAA tournament game the season prior or bringing back many experienced pieces (or both).

And for some teams, the presence of a star player has been the key.

Below is a look at ten teams that could pull off at least one upset in next spring’s NCAA tournament.

NOTE: For this post the following conferences (and teams) are not under consideration: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as BYU and Gonzaga.

Dan D’Antoni of Marshall (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Loyola-Chicago

As noted above the Ramblers reached the program’s first Final Four since 1963 last season, knocking off Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State on the way to San Antonio. Porter Moser will have to account for the loss of two double-digit scorers (Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson) and the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Richardson) from that team, but reigning Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer is back as are fellow starters Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig.

Sophomore Lucas Williamson and junior Bruno Skokna will need to take a step forward after serving as supplementary options last season, but the Ramblers’ ability to defend and share the ball on the other end of the floor should serve them well. Will it be enough to cause some mayhem in the NCAA tournament for a second straight year? That’s the question, especially with their top challengers in the Valley having improved.

Buffalo

Nate Oats’ Bulls dominated Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the 89-68 beating in Boise. Three starters from that team, guards CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Davonta Jordan, return as do valuable reserves Nick Perkins and Dontay Carruthers. Buffalo will have to account for the loss of Wes Clark, who was third on the team in scoring and first in assists, and forward Ikenna Smart, but there’s more than enough talent to get the job done. In addition to the returnees, Buffalo adds freshmen Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams to the mix. Not only does Buffalo have the tools needed to win an NCAA tournament game for the second consecutive season, but it could go beyond that in 2019.

Marshall

Marshall’s style of play made the Thundering Herd an entertaining team to watch last season, and with the tandem of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks back on campus for one last hurrah expect more of the same in 2018-19. Elmore and Burks combined to score an average of 42.8 points per game, with the former also responsible for 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Dan D’Antoni did lose his best front court player from the team that knocked off Wichita State in Adjin Penava, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Penava’s departure that means players such as sophomore Jansson Williams and Darius George and juniors Mike Beyers Ante Sustic will need to step forward. That being said the backcourt rotation, which in addition to Elmore and Burks includes the likes of Rondale Watson and Jarrod West (both averaged 7.8 ppg last season), is talented enough to cause some chaos in the NCAA tournament yet again. That being said Marshall won’t lack for challengers within Conference USA, one being Western Kentucky.

Mike Daum (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

HIGH-LEVEL STAR

South Dakota State

Three of South Dakota State’s top four scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back, with the leader of that bunch being one of the nation’s best scorers in senior forward Mike Daum (23.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). “The Dauminator,” who’s won the last two Summit League Player of the Year awards, is on pace to become the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court (46.2 percent FG, 42.5 percent 3PT, 85.1 percent FT) makes the 6-foot-9 forward an extremely difficult matchup for opponents.

Sophomore David Jenkins Jr., the Summit League’s top freshman last season, and senior guards Tevin King, Skyler Flatten and Brandon Key return as well. T.J. Otzelberger’s roster has both talent and experience, and with a player like Daum this could be the season in which the Jackrabbits break through and pick up the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament victory.

Western Kentucky

When a star has led a mid-major to an NCAA tournament upset, it’s usually be an upperclassman who’s done the honors with Georgia State sophomore R.J. Hunter (2015) being a notable exception. The Hilltoppers land here because of the presence of a freshman many scouting services pegged as a Top-10 recruit in 6-foot-11 center Charles Bassey. Bassey has the size, athleticism and skill needed to make an immediate impact at WKU, and he’ll need to with forwards Dwight Coleby and Justin Johnson having moved on.

That being said, Rick Stansbury has two really good guards in senior Lamonte Bearden and sophomore Taveion Hollingsworth, with the latter having scored 30 in the Hilltoppers’ Postseason NIT win at Oklahoma State. Add in the likes of sophomore guard Josh Anderson, transfers Desean Murray (Auburn) and Jared Savage (Austin Peay) and Top 100 prospect Dalano Banton, and Western Kentucky has enough in the cupboard to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. And they have the potential to do some damage if they get into the field.

Seth Towns (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

RETURNING TALENT

Harvard

More than 99 percent of the scoring from last season’s Ivy League regular season co-champion team is back, and that includes three all-league selections in juniors Seth Towns, Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey. Towns and Lewis combined to average 28.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season, with Bassey being part of a perimeter rotation that includes fellow juniors Bryce Aiken and Christian Juzang. Tommy Amaker has a roster that isn’t short on depth, talent or experience, which is why they enter the 2018-19 season as the clear favorite to win the Ivy League. And if the Crimson can successfully navigate the Ancient Eight’s four-team postseason tournament, something they were unable to do last season, look out.

Southern Illinois

All five starters return from a team that won 20 games and finished second in the Missouri Valley last season, led by seniors Armon Fletcher (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Sean Lloyd Jr. (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kaivon Pippen (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The experience stands to serve Southern Illinois well in what projects to be a tighter Valley race than a season ago, which Loyola won by four games.

Two things to keep an eye on regarding the Salukis: what senior center Thik Bol can give them off the bench after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and how they perform in close games. Ten of SIU’s 18 regular season conference games were decided by six points or less, with the Salukis winning eight. Will that good fortune carry over? Or better yet, can Barry Hinson’s team do enough to cut down on the number of close games it has to play? Either way, this sets up to be a good season for Southern Illinois.

Cal State Fullerton

Dedrique Taylor’s Titans won 20 games and the Big West tournament last season, earning the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. And with four starters back from that team, Cal State Fullerton may be in line for a return trip. The perimeter tandem of seniors Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad is outstanding, with the former being a first team All-Big West selection as a junior after averaging 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. As for Ahmad, he earned second team all-conference honors and averaged 15.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Add in junior forward Jackson Rowe (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and all three double-digit scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back. The NCAA tournament experience for the Titans was a humbling one, as Purdue limited them to 48 points, but that should serve as motivation for this talented squad. Cal State Fullerton has the talent to become the first Big West team to win a Round of 64 NCAA tournament game since Hawaii did so in 2016.

Rider

All five starters are back for Rider, which won 22 games and the MAAC regular season title in 2017-18. But like Harvard, memories of how that season ended (a loss in the MAAC tournament quarters) could serve as fuel for the Broncs in 2018-19. Redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dimencio Vaughn, a first team all-MAAC performer, leads the way after averaging 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with Jordan Allen, Frederick Scott, Stevie Jordan and Tyere Marshall all back as well.

Add in grad student Anthony Durham, and Kevin Baggett has his top six scorers from a season ago to work with as Rider looks for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Navigating the MAAC tournament has proven difficult for the Broncs since joining the league in 1997, but this could be the group that breaks the run of bad luck. And given the production and experience on this roster, Rider could be a team first round opponents hope to avoid come Selection Sunday.